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H1N1 puts Fargo boy in critical condition

Christina Quintana, left, talks about her 15-year-old son, Keith Worthington, who remains in critical condition because of H1N1 flu Monday. At right is Dr. Nadia Sam-Agudu, pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Fargo's MeritCare. Dave Wallis / The Forum

Keith Worthington is lying in a pediatric intensive-care unit bed, breathing with the aid of a machine and battling for his life.

The 15-year-old Fargo boy went to the emergency room Oct. 19 with flu-like symptoms: coughing, a low-grade fever, difficulty breathing.

His mother, Christina Quintana, suspected bronchitis or strep throat, and thought a few hours in the ER would take care of the illness.

The diagnosis turned out to be swine flu, the H1N1 virus, compounded by pneumonia and a bacterial infection. His lungs filled with fluids and suffered damage.

Another complication: The strain of bacteria is resistant to antibiotics. His condition is critical and unstable.

"There's a small percentage of people who can get complications," said Dr. Nadia Sam-Agudu, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Fargo's MeritCare.

"He's had the extreme of all complications in one person," the doctor added.

A few days before Thanksgiving, his heart stopped beating for three minutes.

"The longest three minutes of my life," his mother said Monday, eight weeks into the ordeal. "He's doing better now, but he's got a long ways to go."

Keith, who breathes with help from a ventilator, was unable to speak. But his mother and doctor spoke for him.

And their message was one directed at parents and others: Have your children vaccinated against the H1N1 virus, which has been prevalent among children and young people.

Health officials worry that the public might be getting complacent, now that the incidence of swine flu appears to be decreasing. Pandemics often come in waves, they warned, and the outbreak could flare up again.

"It's very important for parents not to let their guard down," Sam-Agudu said. "Get vaccinated."

She said she spends much of her time reassuring parents that the swine flu vaccine is safe.

"It is safe," said Sam-Agudu, whose own children, both under the age of 9, have been vaccinated. "I feel very strongly about this."

Although autistic, Keith had no underlying health conditions, such as asthma, before the flu struck. That meant he wasn't in the first group to be targeted for the vaccine, which was unavailable before he got sick, his mother said.

The H1N1 vaccine is now available to the general public, and vaccine clinics continue this week in Fargo.

Three deaths this fall have been attributed to influenza in North Dakota, including one from H1N1 and two unspecified cases. More than 500 cases of H1N1 have been reported in North Dakota among more than 3,200 flu cases.

In Minnesota, H1N1 is blamed in 44 deaths, with another 55 flu deaths also reported. More than 1,500 H1N1 flu cases were reported.

Keith, an eighth-grader at Ben Franklin Middle School, was living at Friendship Inc. He loves cats and dogs.

"He's very mischievous at times," his mother said. "Loves to get out. Usually full of a lot of energy."

Now, however, he has a lot of healing to do. His doctors aren't certain whether damage to his lungs is permanent. It has been difficult to wean him from the ventilator, Sam-Agudu said.

Although a breathing tube prevents Keith from speaking, his mother said he is able to get his points across.

"He has his way of communicating," she said. On Monday, by serving as a reminder of the severe complications some can face from a case of the flu, he spoke loudly without saying a word.